With the new year, we wanted to put together an Outreach activity that would expose school kids to something a bit different from the conventional concept of Chemistry – i.e. a bunch of people in lab coats pouring steaming liquids into exotic pieces of glassware. With the help of a number of colleagues, chiefly Sebastian Pike, we thought about a well-rounded session that would include some actual time in the lab as well as some on-the-fly characterisation via X-ray (now possible thanks to the latest diffraction gizmo) – and, even some virtual reality!

The glue of such a session? Why, crystals, of course! The kids (30 of them, year 12, from a local school in Coventry) had a great time in the teaching lab, (re-)crystallising some “mystery white powder” (not what you are thinking!) into some rather cool crystals they actually had a look at under an optical microscope. After that, time to shed the lab coat for a trip into the X-ray room, where they unravelled the identity of the mysterious white compound (sucrose) via an actual diffraction experiment. To top things off, they even ventured into the forgotten depths of the G Block (where computational people such as Gabriele dwell) to play around with the crystal structure of sucrose using a Virtual Reality setup.

All in all, we daresay the entire thing went quite well – we got excellent feedback, and we are confident that we can perfect some elements of the session for the future (it turns out that 30 kids is a lot of kids to deal with at the same time!). Also, there now exists a picture with Gabriele in a lab coat – unprecedented!